Lee Koch had made up his mind. He was going to be a baker. After devoting all his energy to a music career, resulting in a solid debut record and the almost immediate acceptance of the Ventura music scene, and despite having grown up primarily in Temecula, the bluesy, harp-blowing, singer-songwriter found himself disillusioned and burned out on the bar scene he was increasingly forced to play just to survive.

Though only in his 20s, but newly married and with plans to raise a family, he decided it was time to make music his hobby and not his job, so he moved back to his hometown of Temecula with plans to open a bakery with his brother.
That was, of course, until Hollywood came calling.

A quick note on reality TV singing competitions. They are immensely popular and, depending on who you ask, are either exciting shows that let unknowns have a shot at stardom, or, as many actual musicians and songwriters feel, they’re glorified high-school talent shows that have helped drive the nail into the coffin of hard-working artists.

So when one of these singer-centric reality shows reached out to Lee Koch to audition, he was somewhat torn. The old Lee Koch who was trying to build a long-term career would have said no for obvious reasons. The new Lee Koch however, an aspiring baker and family man who had no real plans to even record again, with a helpful push from his wife, decided to audition solely for the “life experience.”

Funny thing happened. Lee made the cut. Passing multiple untelevised auditions, he made the first episode and, fittingly, sang the Bob Dylan song “Like A Rolling Stone.” Koch, with his curly mop and beard, did not look the part of his recital- and pageant-tested fellow contestants, and Lee was eliminated the following week after having to take part in a bizarre duet of the Nirvana anthem “Heart-Shaped Box.”  No hard feelings, though. Lee wrote off the whole experience as a “great story to one day tell my kid.”

From more gigs to management, Koch’s 15 minutes of fame immediately led to the type of opportunities that he previously had trouble finding. His friends, family and fans were so supportive throughout the process that it reinvigorated his love for writing and performing. On a whim, and almost immediately after his brief run as a prime time crooner, the singer-songwriter turned baker turned reality TV contestant went back to his musical roots and hit the road with his wife on an almost Woody Guthrie-worthy ramble around the United States. Playing everywhere and anywhere along the way with no set tour schedule, Koch soaked in the experience.

Upon returning home to Temecula, Koch launched a Kickstarter campaign and successfully funded a new record, which he recorded, as with his debut, with multi talented producer Jesse Siebenberg at Brotheryn Studios in Ojai. Though he no longer lives in Ventura, he still considers the city his “musical home.”

The appropriately titled Whole Heart, a slightly stripped-down affair, touches on Koch’s recent rollercoaster ride in the music industry and beyond. From his marriage to his brush with fame, to the extensive traveling, to rediscovering his love of performing, the record is a powerful and encompassing work.

As for being a baker, that cake may have to stay in the oven longer than expected as Koch, now 28 years old, has decided once again to give music a full-time shot, now with his young family in tow.  Koch and his wife welcomed a baby girl into this world just weeks ago. Preparing to tour in support of the record, first regionally and later this year nationally, Koch is nothing short of elated about the future.

“I’m looking forward to see where this all leads,” he explains. “But I’m so happy and grateful for where my life and my music are right now. To be on the road with my family, it’s the best of both worlds. Everything just feels right.” F

Lee Koch will celebrate the release of his new CD, Whole Heart, with a show on Friday, March 29, at Zoey’s.